Based on Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17, Psalm 127, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44
An article in The Atlantic magazine by Caroline Mimbs Nyce, speaks about a poll of U.S. households. She writes, “…In a recent national poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, half of U.S. households polled said someone within the home was experiencing serious problems with depression, anxiety, or stress – or sleep issues. You can tell from the recent streak of bad behavior in airports and other public spaces. And you can tell from the surge of interest in self-help books on trauma and anxiety. The latest wave of coronavirus cases is receding at last, and we may feel a bit of relief. But this past summer’s false start of hope has given way to a nasty sense of whiplash and unease, particularly as winter approaches. Humans generally do not like ambiguity, experts warned me, and we’re deep in it right now….”
Later in the article she writes, “…Since April 2020, the Census Bureau has been keeping track of the estimated number of Americans reporting signs of anxiety or depression using its biweekly Household Pulse Survey. In the first half of 2021, the survey reflected a general sense of optimism: The number of people reporting such symptoms was generally on the decline. It fell from its 2021 peak of 41 percent, around the end of January, to 29 percent by the Fourth of July. But since then, the number has begun to creep back up, hovering around 32 percent in the most recent reporting periods. Think of it this way: About one in every three people in the country is feeling fragile, in some way, right now. Two of the experts I spoke with worried that compounding stress is responsible for the angry outbursts we’re seeing in public places. Kenneth Carter, who teaches psychology at Oxford College at Emory University, describes himself as an optimist. But even he worries that, after so much loss and suffering, some of us ‘may be near the bottom of our well of compassion.’ That could translate into feeling numb or being unable to show up for those in pain – even if we feel guilty about it, he says. This “compassion fatigue” – combined with the kind of people who are creating messy, angry scenes in public – ‘doesn’t make the world feel like the warm hug that we want it to be….’”
How do we find our way out of the state that many of us is in? The scripture readings for this week hold some promise as they model for us how it is that we can be caring and loving toward ourselves and others. We see how Boaz, kinsman to Naomi’s dead husband, cared for Ruth and went out of his way to ensure her flourishing. How the poor widow cared enough for the greater work of society that she gave all she had to the Temple treasury. Finally, we hear about the sacrifice of Jesus who cared so much for humans that he gave up his life for us so that he might save those who believe in him. Before we go farther, let’s go to God in prayer asking for God to heal us so that we can recapture our caring natures…
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is continuing to teach about Jesus our eternal high priest. He teaches that Jesus is in heaven to “appear on our behalf” to God. The caring nature and sacrifice of Jesus will clear our sin-debt and at the second coming He will save us once and for all time.
Jesus has just denounced the scribes as those who like to show off, to be objects of respect and to have the best seats in the synagogues and at feasts. They are hypocrites, however, as they take advantage of the less fortunate to feather their own nests. Jesus emphasizes the hypocrisy when he notes that a widow who has nothing gives everything she has to the Temple. Jesus notes that most folks give out of their abundance, but that she was greatly blessed for caring enough to give sacrificially.
Naomi and Ruth are in Bethlehem and Ruth goes to glean from a field belonging to Naomi’s husband’s kin, Boaz. Boaz has heard the story of how kind and caring Ruth has been to Naomi and his heart is softened toward her. He looked after Ruth, making sure she gleaned from his fields where he could protect her. Ultimately, this caring attitude was rewarded and Boaz and Ruth were married and she delivered Obed, father of Jesse and grandfather of David who would be king of a united Israel.
The word “caring” is defined as “feeling and exhibiting concern and empathy for others” according to the online Free Dictionary. A few synonyms for caring are compassionate, loving, kind, tender and considerate. I presented in the beginning of this reflection that many of us are suffering from “compassion fatigue” – from an inability to care. Many of us find ourselves in a state of numbness, showing an inability to deal with anymore pain, violence, drama or acting out behaviors that at one time we would all have agreed are not in the interest of the common good.
Jim Wallis, long-time spiritual writer and teacher has this to say about our lack of caring. In his book, “The (Un)Common Good” he writes, “…I believe the moral prerequisite for solving the deepest problems this country and the world now face is a commitment to an ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the common good…Our life together can be better. Ours is a shallow and selfish age, and we are in need of conversion – from looking out just for ourselves to also looking out for one another. It’s time to hear and heed a call to a different way of life, to reclaim a very old idea called the common good. Jesus issued that call and announced the kingdom of God – a new order of living in sharp contrast to all the political and religious kingdoms of the world. That better way of life was meant to benefit not only his followers but everybody else too.
…It is time to reclaim the neglected common good and to learn how faith might help, instead of hurt, in that important task. Our public life could be made better, even transformed or healed, if our religious traditions practiced what they preached in our personal lives; in our families’ decisions; in our work and vocations; in the ministry of our churches, synagogues, and mosques; and in our collective witness….”
Caring for others is what made “The Way” of Jesus unique. Unconditional caring separated Christians from the hypocritical Temple leaders and from the pagan priests. We need to return to caring outwardly for all our neighbors. The Holy Spirit has been working in Bev Aylor, and she has birthed an idea for a coordinated outreach ministry of our two churches. It seeks to care for not only those associated with our churches, but those that we know in the community who are unchurched and who could benefit from a card, a call or a visit, some meals…some unconditional love. Caring for others is how we get out of our “compassion fatigue” by mending the tears in the fabric of our society with the strong thread of unconditional love. Caring is the way of Christ. Caring is what we as followers of the Christ are called to do. It is time to shake off our numbness and get caring again for all of God’s children right here in Madison County. Amen?